A beast of a boat

Shining Star, the author’s Mussel Ridge 46 currently under construction, promises to be an incredibly strong work boat. Photo by Jack Farrell

June 2022

By Jack Farrell

Our new 46-foot Mussel Ridge lobster boat is nearing completion at an undisclosed location somewhere in southern Maine. The boat has been custom designed for its dual role as all-weather freight hauler and small passenger charter vessel for year-round operation out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The hull was completed by Hutchinson Composites in Cushing Maine to their Mussel Ridge 46 design. The 46 is the stretched version of their standard 42-footer.

After the hull is laid up, a four-foot stern section – with transom attached – is wheeled into place, lined up carefully, and glassed into the rest of the boat. Longitudinal stringers are added after the hull sections are connected, bridging the joint with a stem to stern beam about twelve inches deep. Staggered overlapping courses of fiberglass tie the hull sides and bottom together, and conscientious buffing makes it nearly impossible to find the joint from the outside. The Coast Guard approval required a thicker than standard layup schedule, and the addition of transverse stiffening frames between the stringers. The Mussel Ridge 46 is a beast of a boat to start with, and the additional framing and glass work in this one makes it incredibly strong.

The decks and wheelhouse are all complete now. The simple, functional interior is taking shape. Plumbing, exhaust and fuel systems are going in. Window and door openings are being cut out. Windows are like the eyes of a boat, and the Shining Star is finally starting to reveal her good looks and show some personality.

It seems like a long time now since the boat was hauled south for finishing. Since January, in a steel-clad shed off a rural highway not far from the coast, a modest and highly talented crew has been completing the structure and systems to ready the boat for launching, sometime in June. (Everyone who comes by the shop asks when the boat will be ready to launch. Our standard answer is “When it’s ready.”)

It has been a true pleasure to be part of this project with this crew. Many of the details are being worked out as we go. I think I know what I’m looking for from experience with these routes, and the crew includes three licensed captains – all of whom with extensive charter boat experience – as well as a commercial fisherman who has seen a lot of rough weather. This combined experience cannot be overestimated as we work it all out together. All these guys know what can go wrong on a boat, and they are working hard to give this one the best possible odds.

There is something about many talented craftsmen like these that makes them want to avoid the limelight. I have a feeling that at least one or two of these guys might be in that camp. So, out of respect for them and their modesty, I won’t say any more for now – except that I’m forever indebted to them for their insights, commitment and hard work on this boat.

Mrs. Crabby and Catboat Bob

Mrs. Crabby was down from the Northeast Kingdom a few days ago to measure up some canvas for the new boat. She and Catboat Bob keep their Marshall 18 up there on Lake Memphremagog, where there are few sailboats, and perhaps only one little yacht (theirs). Most people on the lake, she says, are “boaters” chasing fish, tubing, and parading around in their pontoon craft. Mrs. Crabby said that she and Bob think of themselves not as boaters, but as sailors. To my mind, a sailor is somewhere between a boater and a yachtsman (person?). Sailors are skilled at sailing and boat-handling, while boaters can be a little unfocused in their seamanship, with their minds on other priorities. In their heyday, yachtsmen dressed in khakis, button-downs and seersucker set the standards in our finest harbors. Their wooden classics had graceful lines and gleaming varnish.

Yachtsmen could sail and handle the boat (and if they couldn’t, they had a paid hand aboard who could), but they also knew the rules: like when and where to fly the jack from a classic yawl. They could tell a saloon from a salon, and they nominated one another to membership in exclusive clubs. Fine yachts from the past century are on the market today for what seem like bargain prices, and it feels like the days of the yachtsmen I observed in my youth in places like Marblehead and Northeast Harbor are just about over. Sailors can be made, but yachtsmen were more often born to it. I will admit to aspiring to the skills and traditions of the age of yachting, but the social exclusivity that often prevailed was undemocratic, and sometimes worse. I have owned classic yachts purchased from actual yachtsmen, but I’ll always be a sailor.

Meanwhile, out at Star Island, the unofficial capital of the Isles of Shoals, I’m sitting in a fourth-floor guest room in the Oceanic Hotel, about 100 feet above the still empty harbor. A cold front is blowing through, rattling the window frames. The air is dry, and cold and clear. I can see three states from up here. If I look to the northwest, just off the tip of nearby Appledore Island, and a little to the left of Mount Agamenticus, I can see the snow-capped peak of Mount Washington shining in the morning sun. To the east is the back cove of Gosport Harbor, where Catboat Bob and Mrs. Crabby were married on a blustery August afternoon many years ago. I can see it all again, though faintly through all the years: the chaotic harbor, the whitecaps, the heaving hulls and our young family safe in the deep cockpit of our little wooden yacht as the ceremony unfolded in the wind. And in the middle of it all, do I remember Catboat Bob taking his vows in a seersucker suit?

Jack is a USCG 100-ton master and the facilities director at Star Islands at the Isles of Shoals, where Aloft, his Ted Hood-designed wooden sloop, lives most of the summer.